Saturday, January 12, 2008

Justice for Alwy Now!


Our communities must rally against the police execution of youth and demand accountability!

Alwy Al-Nadhir: a young high-school student, 18-years of age, admired by his friends, loved by his family, a good student, unknown to the law. These were the things that were said about the young man at a vigil held in his name exactly a week after he was shot dead in Riverdale Park by Toronto police on October 31, Halloween night.

On November 7, a week later, a couple hundred people gathered in Riverdale Park to attend a vigil organized by a local middle-class white woman who met Alwy only minutes before he was shot. Laurel McCorriston spoke to the crowd about how Alwy went out of his way to caution her and her dog about some broken glass that was on the ground. A few minutes later Alwy was shot by the police.

This story is highly contradicted by the ‘official’ story, which is that the ‘two officers interrupted a pair of teenagers attempting to rob two or three other youths’, the Toronto Star reported. In the official story, the mainstream media reported that ‘a replica gun was seized at the scene’. But the police have provided no evidence of this.

In an interview with Basics, Muna Al-Nadhir, Alwy’s mother said, “He was a wonderful boy...I don’t know what to say...he was very nice to his elders, to his sisters...it was such a shock! Every time I walk by his bedroom now, I must close my eyes”. This sentiment has been repeatedly echoed by his sisters and those who knew him.

Alwy’s cousin Fahmy commented: “One thing I remember about Alwy is his smile”. Alwy’s aunt Shuffe, who has sons who are close to Alwy’s age, told Basics that “I’m not even his mother, and all we talk and think about in our house is Alwy. During Eid [the Muslim Holy Day in December], when we were supposed to be celebrating, everyone was crying. Now I have to fear every time my children go outside.”

Alwy’s friends went on to say how decent Alwy was, and why a young guy who occupied his time with school, his family, and his part-time job at the spaghetti factory would be killed by the police. Alwy’s friend Preston told Basics, “he was just such a funny guy - I want to make sure Alwy gets justice”.

But that Alwy was such a wonderful person is really not the point. The police should not have the license to do this to nobody, no matter what the record or character of the person in question.

When the Filipino teenager Jeffrey Reodica was shot in the back three times and killed by two unidentified plainclothes police officers back in May 2004, the ‘official story’ said that he had a knife on him. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) backed up the police version of the story, and so the officers went free.

Thanks to a large scale mobilization of the community around the execution of Jeffrey, a Coroners’ Inquest was eventually established which clearly established that Jeffrey did not have a weapon when he was shot in the back three times. But the Inquest did not have the authority to overrule the SIU’s decision to exonerate the police officers.
Currently, the family is awaiting the SIU report as to what really happened that night.
But Alwy’s family and his friends know that justice will only be achieved building awareness and organization. Communities affected by police brutality need to learn the lessons from the Jeffrey Reodica case, and create a broad-based movement to end racist police brutality all together. Racist cops can not continue to have a license to kill our youth with impunity. They must be brought to justice!

If you’re sick of being the victim of police brutality and ‘racial profiling’, or seeing your kids face this kind of victimization, don’t mourn, organize! To oppose police brutality join the Justice for Alwy campaign and organize your school or neighbourhood. For more information contact the campaign at justiceforalwy@gmail.com.

Force TCHC to Carry Out Repairs.. Now!

Community Lawyers, BASICS, and OCAP to Set Up Free Legal Clinic to Help Tenants Force TCHC Repairs

On Sunday, December 9, Lawrence Heights residents attended an event held by Basics Community Newsletter at the Lawrence Heights Community Centre. One of the main topics discussed at the event was the lack of maintenance in TCHC units and the ways in which TCHC residents can use grass-roots organizing as a way to challenge the illegal, substandard conditions of social housing.

One of the guest lawyers at the event, Sarah Shartal, spoke to the current lawsuit that her firm has filed against TCHC on behalf of several thousand tenants. The suit is seeking to remedy all TCHC tenants who have waited more than two weeks for repairs with a payment of $1000, and also to force TCHC to carry out the backlog of repairs which is estimated at $300 million.
However, Shartal argued, the lawsuit is going to take three to five years to complete, and TCHC residents shouldn’t have to suffer in the meantime in their sub-standard, dilapidated units. As an alternative in the short term, Shartal told residents about other means that could be individually applied to force TCHC to get repairs done immediately. There are two forms available at the Landlord and Tenant Board that tenants can fill out to challenge substandard living conditions.

The T2 form, called the “Application About Tenant Rights”, applies to tenants facing situations where “the landlord...interfered with your reasonable enjoyment of the rental unit”, which can apply to any tenant suffering from poor maintenance, and in cases where “the landlord...withheld or interfered with vital services”, such as “hot or cold water, and the provision of heat from September 1st to June 15.”

The T6 Form, “Tenant Application About Maintenance”, determines whether the “landlord failed to repair or maintain the rental unit or complex or failed to comply with health, safety, housing or maintenance standards.” Both the T2 and T6 processes have their own provisions for forcing the landlord to recompensate the tenant or carry out repairs.

Unfortunately, Shartal noted, the T6 form requires a $45 deposit (which is returned if your case is successful), and also direct photographic evidence of the maintenance issue. Shartal asserted that if evidence is submitted to the Housing Tribunal proving the validity of the maintenance issue, and if the tenant wins the case, TCHC is forced to carry out repairs within two weeks.

However, the T2 and the T6 forms are very tricky to fill out and many peoples’ applications are denied for very minor errors. To ensure residents aren’t manipulated and abused by the system any further in filling out these forms, Basics Community Newsletter, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and the Roach, Schwartz, and Associates law firm are teaming up to hold a free Legal Clinic to help residents fill them out (see ad below). If you are a tenant who needs someone to come out to your unit and take pictures of maintenance problems, OCAP has agreed do so. In addition to submitting these pictures as evidence to the Housing Tribunal, OCAP will later be using the best (i.e. worst) of these images to do a photo exhibit at City Hall to show the representatives of the rich what working people’s living conditions are really like. To set up an appointment with OCAP, call 416-925-6939 or email them at ocap@tao.ca.

The struggle for better housing and a strong, united community is now underway. TCHC is talking about demolishing our communities with “revitalization” because social housing is in such disrepair. But it’s TCHC’s fault that housing is so bad. Residents must struggle to force TCHC to carry out repairs now – it’s a just fight for their legal right! Come out to February 16 to unite with your community and stand up for what is rightfully yours: Decent social housing for all working people now!

FREE LEGAL CLINIC

1pm - 4pm, Saturday, Feb 16
Lawrence Heights Community Centre
Learn how to fill out applications to the Landlord and Tenant Board to force TCHC to carry out repairs! Use the law to fight the slumlords!
Need pictures of problems in your unit?
Call OCAP at 416-925-6939 or email: ocap@tao.ca.
Other questions about this campaign?
Call Basics at 416-800-0823 or basics.canada@gmail.com

Residents Fight Parking Fee Hike

TCHC put on the defensive as community fights back against parking fee rip-off.

Since October 2007, TCHC and the City have been trying to unilaterally enforce their new parking regulations. In October and November TCHC held ‘consultations’ to ‘discuss’ their plans. These so-called ‘consultations’ ended up being a big sham with TCHC already decided on how they could steal yet more money from working people. The community had already dismissed these weak efforts disguised as ‘consultations,’ knowing that TCHC and the City did not have their interests in mind.
Instead, because of wider community pressure and because TCHC saw the community coming together to demand their rights at the November 21st meeting, they backed off of charging those with detached units $45/month for parking. They will still charge other tenants $45/month for parking as well as $5 a night for visitors. In addition, TCHC revealed that they will no longer allow school buses to be parked on TCHC property. They will only be allowed in school parking lots. The fact that many women in the community drive school buses and that schools are not in close proximity to all of the TCHC units in Lawrence Heights have raised great concern. If this is enforced, these women will have to wake up in the middle of the night in order to warm up their buses and pick up the children on time to go to school.
Residents were not satisfied with this weak attempt of TCHC to appease what they saw as a bunch of angry tenants. Contrary to this image, since November, residents and their supporters have been circulating a petition that calls for:
• unlimited visitor parking passes for all tenants,
• monthly rent to include parking as with other TCHC communities,
• 0% displacement of the community under whatever circumstances,
• TCHC to stop breaking the law and carry out repairs now,
• hydro to be included in the monthly rent.
Since the petition has been circulating, residents have researched the issue of parking in TCHC communities and have found out that there is a North York bylaw prohibiting apartment building owners from charging for visitor parking. Toronto’s Licensing and Standards Committee has informed Toronto Police Services that officers should not enforce paid-parking violations on apartment lots.
Join residents in their efforts to know and enforce their rights. Sign the petition when it comes to your door and tell your neighbours about it! 

Rec Centre Programs Under Threat, Again!

$5 million to be saved by pushing people out of free programming in low income areas.

This past fall, City politicians tried closing community centres in order to deal with the City’s financial problem created by previous City and Provincial governments. This January, City Hall is once again considering a move that would put free programming for low-income neighborhoods at risk – and this time, it could be permanent.
City politicians are looking to stop all free programming in 21 ‘Priority Centres” (ie. Centres in low-income communities) and replacing it with a model that will shift the onus on people to ‘prove’ that they are poor. The so-called ‘Everyone gets to play’ policy will increase fees for programs in Centre’s where people have to pay already, and will also force low-income people to submit documentation proving that they are poor in order to get free recreation programs. All registrants will remain on a City database as participants in this program.
Among the 21 ‘Priority Centres’ that would have all their free programs stopped include Lawrence Heights, Rockcliffe, Driftwood, Flemingdon Park, Regent Park (North and South), Oakdale and Scadding Court amongst others.
City staff expect that the implementation of this system will raise some $5 million dollars for the City. While City bureaucrats and politicians are defending the policy by saying that money will be re-invested in programs, they admit that the money made in at least the first year will be used to pay the Parks deficit.
“This is a clear example of working people being stomped on first as a way to save the City money” said Steve D of Basics, who have been organizing in low income neighborhoods to fight for our communities and services. “With ¼ of the City’s budget going to Police, to start cutbacks by taking services from the people who need them the most shows that working people are not a priority for City politicians”.
City staff have also not addressed how this program will effectively include the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that the City instituted that makes it so that City staff are not allowed to either ask about or report on someone’s status in Canada. If the policy goes through, undocumented workers and their families will not be able to access these programs because they wont be able to provide the City the information required to use them.
Going after free programs in low-income areas and trying to call this is a good thing for people shows how out of touch politicians are with the conditions of working people in Toronto . None of the sham ‘consultations’ they have scheduled with 1 week’s notice are taking place in the community centres most affected.
While Police budgets and salaries keep growing, programs for youth only get attention when there are shootings. Ironically, when the programs start to work is when they get cut - until the next rash of guns that bring the politicians for ‘photo ops’.
It was the widespread anger from communities over the community centre closures in the fall that gave politicians the necessary push to make them reverse their positions. If working people come together to demand that the free programs in communities such as Lawrence Heights, Pelham and Regent Park stay free then we can win!

Cutting CO2 With Algae

Engineers at Ohio University have discovered a way to use algae - simple, plant-like organizims - to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants and industrial production. Rather than going into the atmosphere and causing global warming, CO2 emmissions could be channeled into a bioreactor made up of algae grown on verticle screens. The algae dissolve the CO2 into the surrounding water and emit only oxygen and nitrogen. The algae can then be harvested to be used as animal feeds and biofuel. The first such facility of 1.25 million square meters of algae screens could be up and running by 2010. This shows that we have the human know-how to stop climate change - we only need a government willing to lead the way.

Fatal Fires Break Out in TCHC Buildings

In the space of just over two weeks there have been two fatal fires in TCHC units. On December 22nd 2007, a mother and her two children perished when their townhouse near Keele St. and Sheppherd Ave. burnt to the ground. The Ontario fire marshall said that there were two fire alarms in the unit. According to TCHC, the alarms had recently passed an inspection and they were programmed to notify TCHC if they were not working. This obviously did not happen. On January 7th 2008, in the same area in another TCHC building, a 74-year old man died and 5 others were treated for smoke inhalation after a 3-alarm fire broke out in his 1st floor unit. The Ontario fire marshall said that if sprinklers were installed in both cases, the fires could have been prevented.

New Orleans Residents Fight Demolitions

Residents of New Orleans are fighting a plan approved by New Orleans City Council to demolish 4,500 public housing units. Going along with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the City is arguing that it wants to replace units damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with new mixed-income housing.
Critics of the plan have argued it would further restrict the stock of affordable housing, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
“It is beyond callous, and can only be seen as malicious discrimination,” said Kali Akuno of the Coalition to Stop the Demolition. “It is an unabashed attempt to eliminate the black population of New Orleans.”
In December, police used pepper spray and stun guns on workers and residents who came to City Hall to protest the proposal to destroy housing. Several people were treated for the effects of the pepper spray.
Politicians and supporters of the planned demolition argue developers will take advantage of tax breaks and build new neighbourhoods with portions of low-income housing. These arguments were similar to those used at Regent Park, where demolition has started in order to make way for ‘mixed income’ housing which will have some 400-500 less subsidized rental units.

Drug Co.’s Spend More on Ads Than R&D

A recent study has shown that US drug companies spend almost twice as much on advertising as on research and development. The authors of the study say this confirms “the public image of a marketing-driven industry.” While Canadian companies spend less on advertising than their US counterparts, they still spend little on research, so the ratio is roughly the same. This is one of the big reason for the high cost of prescription drugs.

Lakotah Declare Independence


On December 19, 2007 the Lakotah Sioux Indians broke of all of their treaties with the Government of the United States and declared the independent Republic of Lakotah, which encompasses territory from Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

A four-member delegation of the Lakotah Sioux Indians visited Washington, D.C. to formally submit their withdrawal from their treaties with the American government. The Lakotah Sioux’s legal basis for the move is based on the U.S. Constitution itself, which indicates that treaties are the highest law of the land. One of the delegates, Phyllis Young, a former indigenous representative to the United Nations, stated that “We have 33 treaties with the United States that they have not lived by. They continue to take our land, our water, our children.’’

The Lakotah Sioux have suffered greatly under the rule of the U.S., with a life-expectancy of 44-years for men, one of the lowest in the world, and with an infant mortality rate five times that of the average American.

Russel Means, one of the representatives of the new country and one of the founders of the American Indian Movement, declared that “We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us.” Citizens of the new country will live tax-free, and will be issued new passports and driver’s licenses.

While in Washington, representatives of the new country visited the embassies of Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, and South Africa to request diplomatic recognition. Ireland and East Timor have also expressed interest in the declaration.

Duane Martin Sr., one of the Washington delegates said “after 150 years of colonial enforcement, when you back people into a corner there is only one alternative...to bring freedom into its existence by taking it back to the love of freedom, to our lifeway.”

This Issue’s Enemy of the People: Coun. George Mammoliti



In an ongoing feature, Basics will single out those special people who deserve recognition for having gone out of their way to show their contempt for the working class. Not just your ordinary jackasses - these are Enemies of the People!

Former NDP Provincial politician turned Liberal City Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti has really done it this time.

In response to a recent bout of shootings near Jane and Sheppard (not even the area that he represents), Mammoliti made statements to media calling for the Armed Forces to be called in to combat “terrorists”, referencing local gang youth.

Before he was a loud-mouth right-wing politician, Mammoliti was actually a landscaper for social housing in Toronto. As a politician however, Mammoliti has often championed the hard-line ‘law and order’ causes calling for families (with or without children) to be kicked out Community Housing if someone is thought to be selling drugs while he was a Parliamentary Assistant on drugs, and rallying support for extending the contract of the much-hated ex-Police Chief, Julian Fantino. This past year, he called for a ‘red light district’ (ie. prostitution centre) to be set up on the Toronto Islands demonstrating that he has neither a sense for irony or hypocrisy. Mammoliti has also been noted for the amount of donations received from corporations and developers, particularly over $70 000 raised in 2003 for his election campaign - even though no one was even running against him.

Normally, his misspending of working peoples money and jack-ass comments wouldn’t warrant him being given the label of enemy of the people. However, now with his suggestions to bring war to our streets to battle youth he has clearly shown himself to be not only stupid, but dangerous. Congratulations Mr. Mammoliti, you are an enemy of the people.  

Anti-Terrorist Fence in Owen Sound?!?

Your tax dollars at work: a chain-link and barbed wire fence to stop terrorist infiltration of Owen Sound.

How far will the federal government go to make people afraid of ‘terrorism’? All the way to Owen Sound from the looks of it.
The Canadian Government has build a 2 metre high, 60 metre long barb-wired fence along the east harbour wall of Owen Sound - much to the surprise of the local City government.
The Mayor and City Council of Owen Sound have written a letter of complaint to Harper. During a recent council meeting, Mayor Ruth Lovell called the fence “a big disgrace”.
The federal government is justifying putting up the fence as a way to ‘keep out terrorists’. Why terrorists would want to attack Owen Sound - a Georgian Bay city of 21,753 that only welcomes an international ship once every few years - was left unexplained.
According to Transport Canada, more than $930 million has been spent on such “marine security enhancements”.
This sort of ridiculous act would be hilarious if it wasn’t for the fact that the government uses this sort of fear mongering to keep Canada involved in the bogus ‘War on Terror’.

Gov’t Starts to Return Park


Return of Ipperwash, stolen from First Nations for WWII army base, starts 12 years after the police murder of Dudley George.

The provincial government announced on December 20 that they will start to return Ipperwash Provincial Park to the Chippewas of Kettle and Stoney Point First Nations. The park was the site of the Ipperwash crisis that culminated in the police murder of First Nations activist Dudley George.

The First Nations have been struggling for decades to see the return of their ancestral lands that include a sacred burial ground.

In 1942, the government used the War Measures Act to steal the land from the First Nations and turn it into a military base to train soldiers before they went off to fight in Europe. The government promised to return the land when no longer needed for military purposes.
In 1995, after years of pressuring the government, the First Nations moved to reclaim their stolen land. 35 First Nations people moved on to the park, at the time lying unused as it had been abandoned by the military.

The provincial government responded with violence, sending in the riot squad backed by a heavily armed Tactical Response Unit to evict the unarmed First Nations. The police opened fire, wounding two and killing Dudley George. (The officer who killed George with a sniper rifle was convicted of criminal negligence but received only two years of community service. The OPP gave him an estimated payoff of one million dollars and a lucrative job in the private sector.)

The George family welcomed the announcement. “I think he would be pleased. He paid the ultimate price and is not here to enjoy,” said his brother Sam at a recent press conference.
While the announcement is a good first start, it does not immediately return the land to the First Nations. For now the park will be “co-managed” by a joint committee of representatives from the government and the Chippewas of Kettle and Stoney Point First Nations, in consultation with “community members”. No mention was made on who’s wishes would come first in case of disagreement, or exactly when full control would be passed over - only that it would be “a matter of time”.

People of all nations in Canada must keep a close watch on the government of Ontario to demand that they do not cheat the First Nations yet again. 66 years is long enough! Give the land back!

CAW/Magna Deal: A Historic Sell-Out

Deal between union and company may increase wages, but at what cost?

The continued existence of independent and democratic workers’ unions, the traditional form of workers organized power, has been thrown into question as a result of the recent deal struck between the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW) and Magna International. The so-called “Framework for Fairness” as announced by CAW President Buzz Hargrove and Frank Stronach, CEO of Magna, strips away many of the rights that working people have fought for centuries to achieve.
The “Framework for Fairness” eliminates shop stewards - union members democratically elected by their coworkers to represent them in their dealings with management. In their place are “employee advocates,” who are assessed by a “fairness committee” made up of equal numbers of representatives from management and labour. Rank and file workers can not vote on these positions, taking away their right to elect their own representatives. Even worse, these so-called “employee advocates” are prohibited from viewing themselves as representatives of the union or employees.
According to the new deal, workers are even denied the right to directly elect the leaders of their own local union. Without independent, democratic representation in the workplace, workers’ interests are kept in line with bosses’ priorities. The obvious result is a silencing of workers’ voices and a rebirth of the company union controlled and infiltrated by management, that workers fought tirelessly against in the 1920s and finally eliminated in the 1930s. The removal of shop stewards has huge implications for building any sort of authentic workers movement and mobilizing the membership which is the real source of union power.
Arguably, the most shocking and disturbing element of the CAW/Magna agreement is that it permanently gives up the right to strike. The possibility of removing one’s labour is the one single bargaining chip that workers have in their dealings with management and is the source of workers’ power. Without the right to strike, workers are completely vulnerable to the whims of management and have no grounds on which to take a stand, weakening their position in an already unequal relationship. One thing we can be sure of is that workers in all sectors of the economy will face tougher negotiations at the bargaining table as the CAW/Magna deal has set a precedent that this is acceptable practice.
As working people, it is time to ask ourselves what kind of representation we want in the workplace and whether today’s unions are fulfilling their obligations to us. Unions are made up of workers and therefore, belong to us. In an economic climate where workers are up against multinational corporations and low-paid, part-time, temporary employment has become normal, independent organizations for workers is more important than ever. We must demanding accountability from our union leadership and reject leaders who fail to fight for our interests and sell us out to the bosses. Making concessions to management and sacrificing hard-won rights for workers is a dangerous game that is difficult to stop once it has begun.
There is a lot of anger amongst workers in the CAW surrounding the Magna deal. Hopefully they will be able to effectively channel that anger and take back their union.  

Migrante-Ontario Launched in Toronto

Organizers vow to fight for and defend the rights of Filipino migrant workers.

Migrante-Ontario, an alliance of Filipino migrant organizations in Ontario, was officially launched in Toronto this November. Migrante-Ontario is a chapter of Migrante International, a global alliance of more than 100 overseas Filipino organizations in 22 countries. Members of Migrante-Ontario include: DAMAYAN Migrant Education and Resource Center, United Filipinos for Nationalism and Democracy (UFiND), AWARE/GABAY, Philippine Advocacy Through Arts Canada (PATAC), Pilipinong Migrante Sa Canada (PMSC)-Ottawa, Migrant Workers Family Resource Center-Hamilton, UKPC-Toronto, and Siklab-Ontario. Since its launching, initiatives have been put forward for the formation of a Migrante Ontario Youth Collective.
Migrante-Ontario believes it is part of the Filipino people’s movement for national liberation and democracy. Migrante organizes Filipinos overseas and their families back home. Migrante’s mission is to continuously uphold and defend the rights and welfare of Filipino migrants and their families.
The need for organizing Filipinos abroad has become urgent since the 1980s due to the Philippine Government’s Labour Export Policy (LEP). The LEP is part and parcel of the government’s counterinsurgency strategy as the biggest safety valve to the country’s crisis. The over 10 million Filipinos now abroad would otherwise be at home un- or underemployed and not sending remittances to relatives also un- or underemployed. Neither would the billions of dollars remitted every year be circulating in the economy to provide work for others. The other elements of this counterinsurgency strategy include massive foreign borrowing and militarization of the country.
For their part, receiving countries like Canada rarely protect the rights of the migrants they so assiduously exploit. Police violence, non-enforcement of employment standards, and restrictive visas are just some of the many weapons used against Filipino migrants.
In its brief existence, Migrant Ontario is already at the forefront of Filipino migrants struggles. Migrante Ontario is seeking cooperation with local Canadian and other migrant organizations. A major task of Migrante Ontario is to mobilize other migrant organizations in Canada to assist in the formation of an anti-imperialist International Migrants Alliance (IMA). The first IMA assembly is set for May 2008 in Malaysia.  

Feds Sabotage Bali Climate Conference


The Canadian state = the planet’s 4th biggest problem

An annual report and Canada’s recent performance at a UN climate conference ranks it the fourth worst country in efforts to end climate change. The damning report came from Germanwatch, a European environmental NGO that rated Canada 4th worst in terms of efforts to stop climate change (out of 56 countries evaluated).

The Report came as representatives from over 180 countries attended a UN climate conference held in Bali, Indonesia during December. The conference took place to negotiate a greenhouse gas emission reduction plan that would follow Kyoto once the accord ends in 2012. The Kyoto protocol was ratified in 1997, and included a collective agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 5% bellow 1990 levels by 2012, but because of its weakness, it failed even in this week goal.

The Bali conference ended with a vague plan, including an agreement that rich nations need to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 20-40% below 1990 levels by 2020. Throughout the conference, Canada, represented by environment minister John Baird and his team of negotiators sided with the US and Japan in trying to block the passing of this goal. Canada also attempted to force strict carbon limits on China and other developing nations - despite the fact that these countries bear almost no responsibility for causing global warming, and (in the case of China) have a per-capita emission level 5 times lower than Canada. Many feel that Canada and the U.S. are pushing these carbon limits in order to challenge the competitive threat of Chinese capitalism to Western interests.

The G-8 (The US, Canada, Japan, the U.K, Germany, France, Italy and Russia) emit around half of the globe’s annual carbon dioxide emissions – the most significant greenhouse gas that causes global warming- despite representing less than 11% of the world’s population. It is the rich that own the huge oil, energy and industrial corporations within those 8 countries that are the greatest contributors to climate change and are not only doing the least to prevent it, but are actively trying to thwart efforts to stop it.

According to most recent calculations, Canada emits around 639 million (well over half a billion) tonnes of carbon dioxide per year - making it the 7th biggest polluter of CO2 in the world. The shameful stance of John Baird at the climate conference must be condemned by all Canadians as a crime against the people of the world and the planet. It is part of the consistent anti-environmental policies implemented by various administrations: from the Liberal’s dramatic rising of emission levels, to the current Conservative’s destructive position. True environmental change can only come from governments that do not put corporate interests ahead of the people. 

The Great Employment Insurance Rip-Off

EI surplus stands at $54 billion while most workers can’t collect from program they paid for.

by J.D. Benjamin

The history and purpose of Employment Insurance is pretty straight forward. After decades of struggle and frequently violent opposition by the government, workers won a major concession - a federal insurance program that would support workers when they were out of work.

Over the last 40 years, the EI program has been gradually clawed back. Starting in 1994 with the Liberals and continuing with the Conservatives, the government turned EI into a scam to rip workers off for $2 billion on average per year. Last year, the government collected $16.8 billion in contributions but only handed out $14.1 billion to jobless workers. Overall, the EI surplus has ballooned to $54 billion.

The government uses two main tactics to keep the money pouring in:

The first is to make sure most workers can not use the program in the first place. 78 percent of workers in Toronto who lose their jobs do not qualify for EI. Temp workers, part timers, anyone who worked less than 665 hours in the previous year can not collect, no matter how much they may have paid into the program. This comes down hardest on the workers who need the program the most - single moms, new immigrants, youth, or other workers who can’t find stable, full time jobs.

The second tactic is to make the program as useless as possible for those few workers that do qualify. The program only covers 55% of previous wages - starvation levels for workers who were low waged to begin with - with an maximum payment of $423 a week.

The first EI payment also takes six weeks to be issued - potentially two rent payments missed, eviction and homelessness. Anyone who access Ontario Works while they wait for EI to kick in will find the money taken off their next EI cheque, usually leaving them with only $30. This puts them right back where they started - having to choose between paying the rent or feeding the kids.

The program does not actually cover workers until they find a new job - once your time limit is up, you’re cut off, even if they have paid more into the system than they have taken out.
So were has all this extra money gone? The additional outrage is that there is no government account with $54 billion dollars in it, just waiting to be used for the benefit of the working class. Instead, the money has been dumped into the federal government’s general revenue, to be spent on whatever the feds want. Chretien and Martin spent it on debt repayment, while Harper spent it on the military and occupying Afghanistan.

In other words, when (not if) the economy goes bust and large numbers of workers get laid off, the money will not be there to keep them from falling into poverty. The money will be sitting in the accounts of the big banks, arms manufacturers, and the corrupt puppet government of Hamid Karzai and his cronies.

With a federal election coming, the politicians are forced to pretend to care about the plight of working people. Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion called poverty in Canada “an immense human tragedy” - ignoring the fact that it was his party’s EI policies that helped increase the poverty level. The Conservatives railed against the surplus while in opposition but did nothing once in power. The NDP has complained, but done nothing to mobilise working people to fight back. All parties need to have their feet held to the fire until workers get an EI that works for them!

The Name of the Country is Nandigram


People’s resistance to displacement in West Bengal captures the attention of all India and the world.

In the quiet rural area of Nandigram, in West Bengal India, there has been a struggle that reflects the dreams and aspirations of an entire nation. In the last year the villagers of Nandigram have resisted the neo-liberal onslaught with their bodies and lives, and have embarrassed the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM led Left Front in India and around the world. In 2006 the land of Nandigram was sold under a Special Economic Zone act to the Salim Group of Indonesia to build a chemical hub. This would result in the deprivation of land and livelihood for thousands of villagers. Sumit Chowdhury, an independent activist who had been involved in the Nandigram movement, said that the sale of the land was actually done by the Salim Group for their client DOW Chemicals. The sale of this land has been disputed and referred to as a ‘rumor’ by supporters of the ruling-party - the CPIM.

In December 2006 the people of Nandigram, fearing the loss of their lands and livelihoods, organized 41 village committees called the Bhumi Ucched Protirodh Committee (Committee Against Land Acquisition) or BUPC, to resist the sale. The BUPC then declared the area a ‘liberated zone’. On 3rd January 2007 a land the Haldia Development Authority, a State body, put up acquisition notice. This was accompanied by a lathi-charge by the police, which gave rise to a mass upsurge. Sumit Chowdhury said that 80% of people in Nandigaram supported the mass upsurge against the police, which resulted in the police having to flee the area.

On 14th March the CPIM, determined to re-capture the land and restore their authority in the area, sent approximately 2000 police officers accompanied by an armed and trained group of CPM members. The village committees heard of the upcoming surge of forces into the area assembled approximately 2000 villagers to resist them. The police attempted to occupy the area by shooting at the assembled villagers, resulting in 14 deaths. The villagers assembled included women as well as men, and even some children. Suma Ghosh, a student at Delhi University and part of a fact-finding team in the area, told us that women have been instrumental in organizing the resistance in Nandigram and have formed an organization called the Mathangiri Mataila Somithi (MMS). Vanessa, a student from the Jawaharlal Nehru University and also a part of the fact-finding team, told me that the MMS has a lot of ‘feminist potential’ and had been using their organization to help resolve family disputes and intervene in domestic abuse.

On 16th March 30,000 villagers recaptured part of the area. Since then there have been repeated attacks by the police forces to recapture the entire area, which has resulted in dozens of unarmed villagers being killed. This included a rally held by protestors on the 9th November 2007 which resulted in the harassment and beating of 800-900 people. The CPM having effectively ‘recaptured’ Nandigram has been harassing the villagers despite the fact that the CPM led West Bengal State government has declared that the land will not be sold. Even reporters and fact-finding teams that have entered the area have been harassed and attacked by the CPM cadre in the area. However, the BUPC is re-organizing and there is a great likelihood that there will be more violence as the people of Nandigram attempt to ensure that their lands and livelihoods are safe in their own hands through the restoration of Nandigram as a ‘liberated zone’.

Nandigram, like many areas around the country had been allocated for ‘development’ under the SEZ act. And like many areas they have resisted the sale of their land and the destruction of their livelihoods. I was repeatedly told by activists and common people alike that the focus of this article should not be on the atrocities that have occurred there, rather I should focus on the people’s brave resistance. Out of the terror and harassment that the people of Nandigram have had to endure at the hands of the CPM there springs forth a dream of a new future in which land will belong to the tiller and there will be freedom from patriarchy and imperialism. Nandigram is not just the name of a village, but is the name of the whole country.

Somali People Resist Attacks


Somalis at home and abroad struggle for independence.

Towards the end of 2006, US-backed Ethiopian force rolled into Somalia to overthrow the popular Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). The UIC had restored peace and security in much of southern Somalia during their brief reign of power. The illegal Ethiopian invasion and occupation of Somalia, with the installation of a puppet government, marks a new phase of US imperialism in Somalia.

Somalia has endured a long history of foreign domination, both at the hands of European colonial powers and the US. During the colonial era, Somalia was curved up into five territories; Italian Somaliland in the south, British Somaliland in the north, French Somaliland in Djbouti, Ogaden (Western Somalia), annexed to Ethiopia and the Northern Frontier Division (NFD), ceded to Kenya.

In 1960, European colonizers were eventually defeated when Somalia attained its national independence. In the early 1980s US imperialism gradually took hold in Somalia as the US administration propped up the military dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre through financial aid and the massive transfer of weapons. Working in collusion with Barre, US destabilization in this era was aimed at suppressing and dividing the Somali people, thereby making Washington directly responsible for state collapse in Somalia.

The primary objective of the US in Somalia is access to Somalia’s untapped but massive oil reserves and vast uranium deposits. In geopolitical terms, Somalia is strategically located where the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea converge. It oversees the daily passage of oil tankers that go through the Suez Canal, while its close proximity to the Middle East and Sudan makes it an ideal territory to launch US military attacks against the perceived “Islamist threat” in the region. Worse still, the US plans to use the strategic town of Berbera as the base of its newly launched ‘AFRICOM’ (Africa Command), an American military scheme aimed at the militarizing the entire African continent.

Just as the Somali people rallied hard to defeat the US occupation of 1993 during the so-called “Operation Restore Hope”, Somali resistance to the Ethiopian occupation has been unrelenting and fierce. All the while, the humanitarian crisis in Somalia worsens: hundreds of thousands of Somalis have been displaced by the Ethiopian army, while the Western corporate press completely ignores the issue.

Abroad, Somalis have begun to wage their own peaceful resistance. On November 16, the Somali Canadian Diaspora Alliance (SDA) of Toronto organized a demo outside the U.S. embassy, attended by at least 200. This demo came at a time when a large umbrella organization of progressive Somali Diaspora organizations from across Canada and the U.S. was formed. The mandate of the new organization, known as Somali Cause, is to demand an immediate end to the Ethiopian occupation and war crimes, promote an all inclusive national reconciliation process, and call for the establishment of an International War Crimes Tribunal for Somalia. The main objective of all these pro-people Somali organizations is to forge a united front to peacefully free Somalia from occupation and oppression, and to bring lasting liberation and real democracy to the Somali people.

Falling Dollar, Falling Empire?

Losing status as world’s reserve currency spells big trouble for American Empire, good news for peoples in rest of the world.

It’s not often that a Brazilian super model reveals the approaching collapse of an empire. Such was the case when Gisele Bundchen - one of the richest models in the world - insisted that her $30 million dollar fees for the first half of 2007 be paid not in American dollars - but in euros.
Bundchen isn’t the only one wary of the dollar. Over the last few years the dollar has been slowly losing ground to the euro. With the sub-prime mortgage crisis, tremendous trade imbalances, and two grinding wars, the American Empire is starting to show its cracks.
But it is not so much the value of the dollar as the role that the dollar plays in the global economy that has kept the US dominant for the last several decades. Since 1970, when President Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard, the US has been able to do something that no other country on Earth can do - finance its debts by just printing more money. Every other country that has done the same has immediately faced hyper-inflation. For example, after WWI, Germany paid off its war debts by printing more money - so Germans started using the soon worthless currency to burn instead of firewood.
This doesn’t happen to the US because most oil producing countries are dominated by the US and conduct all their oil sales in dollars. Want to buy some oil from Saudi Arabia? You’ll need dollars. This forces other countries to buy massive amounts of dollars and accept dollars when they sell their exports to the US. This keeps the dollar artificially high and allows the US to support a massive trade imbalance that hit a record monthly high of $68.13 billion in October (The US has not exported more than it imported since 1975!). The inflation then gets put on to people outside the US when they pay higher prices for their commodities - a hidden tax on the people of the world to fund the wars and consumerism of the American Empire.
Once the dollar loses its status as the worlds’ reserve currency, inflation will explode in the US and their 737 foreign military bases would be unaffordable - something the US has been desperate to avoid. Saddam Hussein switched Iraqi oil sales to the euro. After the US bombed, invaded and occupied Iraq, the oil accounts were switched back to dollars. In 2002, the CIA backed a failed coup against the democratically elected government of Venezuela after that country’s ambassador to Russia spoke of switching to the euro for their oil sales. More recently, when Iran stated that they would start using the euro or the yen for their oil sales, the White House started a campaign to launch a war against Iran, using the same false propaganda that was used to justify the war against Iraq. The US would sooner kill millions of people through its wars than lose the tool that allows them to dominate the global economy. But as the saying goes: Todays’ empire, tomorrows’ ashes!

Wise Intelligent: Drugs, Gangs, and Gentrification


Part 2 of a 3 part series interviewing some of the progressive militants of the hip hop culture.

Basics: Could you speak about the kind of work that’s being done in New York or Jersey right now with gangs and youth?

Wise: The government is taking on this lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key policy. The prison industrial complex is alive and thriving, and the youth are a commodity now, an investment to the prison-industrial complex. So we’re giving the youth some political orientation and giving them some knowledge of the environment in which they are embedded that’s imposing a lot of negative behaviors on you… You’re not the one who is sick, it’s the society that you’re in that’s sick, and that’s what needs to be broken down and taken out of the way.

Basics: Right now, the government, is bringing in mandatory minimum sentencing, and is putting hundreds of millions of tax payers’ dollars into building up the prison system. Can you comment on how the whole prison industrial system developed in the 1980s and 1990s in New York, and how what the community’s going through now?

Wise: It was the psychologist BF Skinner who said that behavior is shaped by its consequences, which means that they can control your behavior by modifying certain aspects of your environment. When we look back on the late‘70s/early’80s, we see a lot of closings of factories and plants in the inner city that employed a lot of inner-city black families. This created a large population of unemployed African-American men, who were in supervisor and management positions in a lot of these companies. And these black men were bringing their sons in to these jobs. So it was a perpetual employment routine. We lost that economy in the black community. This is what started the ‘urban decay’, and ‘white flight’ and ‘suburban sprawl’ that followed the factories leaving.

The government understood that all they had to do was bring in drugs from Laos, from the war in Nicaragua, and flood the black community with those drugs, and then these unemployed, stressed-out black men are going to do one or the other: they gonna sell the drugs or they gonna smoke the drugs. Then they enforced their ‘War on Drugs’, which was a policy of designed to perpetuate the prison-industrial complex. At the exact same time they went public on the market with prison-building companies, like Wackenhut Corporation and Corrections Corporation of America. These companies are on the New York Stock Exchange. You can actually go and purchase stock in these companies and invest in the incarceration of young black youth throughout the country. So, it’s a business, it’s a very big business.

Basics: What do you see as the prospects for transforming the youth caught up in this struggle into revolutionary organizations to challenge their conditions?
Wise: The weapons of this day and time are information – the truth is the weapon. At this point, we have to disseminate the truth – like with your magazine, Basics. It was Marcus Garvey who taught us that to know thy enemy is part of the complete education of a man. In order to keep a people subjugated to you, you must keep that people ignorant of their culture. They imposed a state of ignorance on non-white people in order to create this slave-master relationship that we’re dealing with today. We have to really deal with the youth on a level of truth, get the truth and information out there because once they learn who they are, they’re going to know who their enemy is.

Next issue: Umi from P.O.W.

Afghanistan in Lights

Depiction of Afghan people in popular media troubling.

This December, two movies were released that are prime examples of the use of popular films to push the agenda of the powerful.
‘The Kite Runner,’ based on the celebrated book by Afghan-American novelist, Khaled Husseini, is the story of the friendship between two boys, one from the upper class, the other his servant. What could have been a touching story unfortunately turns into a series of stereotypical images of crazy Afghans with horrific scenes of murder and sexual abuse while life in the US meanwhile is highly idealized. This overly simplistic comparison of the two societies fails to reveal the diversity and complex history of either one.
‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ is based on the covert American financing of the Afghani Mujahideen in the early 80s. Wilson, a Democrat congressman, and Joanne Herring, an ultra-right wing wealthy socialite, make it their mission to make the war in Afghanistan the first major defeat of the USSR. The final message of the film - that if only Americans continued to finance ‘reconstruction’ efforts in Afghanistan after the Soviets lost the war, everything would have been okay - is a thinly veiled attempt to muster support for the continuation of the current occupation of Afghanistan.
Despite their glitz and glamour, the real message of both films is support for occupation through perpetuation of stereotypical images of savagery in the Middle East when Muslims are left to their own devices - obscuring what went on in Afghanistan and what is going on today.
It is important to note that these films were released around the same time that George W. Bush praised Canada for ‘pulling its weight’ in Afghanistan and encouraged other NATO countries to show similar commitment to the American-led effort.
It is not only Hollywood that is pushing this message. CBC radio aired ‘Afghanada,’ a radio drama about the life of Canadian troops in Afghanistan that is aimed at generating sympathy for the plight of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and encouraging Canadians to support them - and therefore the occupation. These propaganda pieces obscure who the real victims of the conflict are: Afghan people just trying to live their lives amidst an American and Canadian-led war and occupation.

Songs of Our Times


Dec 8, OISE Auditorium, Toronto

“Songs of Our Times” was an impressive debut for community organization Philippines Advocacy Through Arts - Canada (PATAC). The concert featured a variety of musical performances, ranging from traditional Filipino, to modern folk, to ballads, to comedy. It was also a multimedia event, as PowerPoint videos accompanied the performances and exhibitions of photographs, paintings, and other visual arts were on display.

As well as being entertained, the capacity crowd learned more about the human rights situation in the Philippines. Many of the songs highlighted the struggles of the Filipino people, forced to either live under a corrupt government at home or to go abroad as migrant workers to seek a better life.

The concert was organized to raise funds for the Childrens Rehabilitation Centre in the Philippines, a place where children who have been victims of state violence receive physical, psychological and social rehabilitation services. The children have suffered arrest, torture, displacement, or other human rights violations at the hands of the brutal and corrupt army, police, or paramilitary of the Philippine government in its all out war against the peoples movement. The death toll of children killed by the military during operations has reached 54. Seventeen children have been tortured, 69 illegally arrested, and 63 beaten and raped. Many are also traumatised by the killing of relatives by security forces. Over 800 unarmed, legal mass activists have been killed by security forces since current President Arroyo came to power in 2001.

The event also received the warm greetings of exiled revolutionary poet Jose Maria Sison, who praised the use of arts and culture “as truly a potent instrument for reaching out and inspiring the people to act and change their lives and the world.”

Canadian artists and community activists should take inspiration from PATAC and the kind of work that they are doing. Songs can do more than just entertain - sometimes, they can bring people together, united in the struggle for justice!

How to Start a Bulk Buying Food Co-operative


Save money on your grocery bill while working to mobilise your community!

Everyone wants to provide their family with nutritious and well rounded foods, but with the low wages and rising prices working people face in this country, that is not always possible. Locally grown organic produce is too often only sold in specialty markets catering to the wealthy.

But there is a way to improve your families’ diet while cutting down on your grocery bill at the same time: start a bulk buying food cooperative!

A cooperative is a form of business, but one that is owned and operated by its membership. A coop can be as small as a handful of people or a major enterprise of tens of thousands.
Most coops follow seven main principles: 1. Open, voluntary membership. 2. Democratic member control. 3. Limited return on investment. 4. Any surplus belongs to the membership. 5. Belief in education of members and the community on cooperative principles. 6. Cooperation among co-ops. 7. Concern for the community.

With a bulk buying coop, the members pool their time and money to buy directly from farmers or wholesalers. The savings comes because unlike buying as an individual family, where you buy small, prepackaged items and pay the price set by the store, the coop is able to buy large quantities and get a big discount. As the volume goes up, the per unit cost goes down - a 50 pound sack of rice is much cheaper than fifty 1 pound bags of rice. The coop members then divide up the purchased items amongst themselves and share in the savings.

A bulk food buying coop should start simple, with a few families buying roughly equal amounts of the same basic foodstuffs, such as rice, beans, potatoes, flour, cheese, etc. - many wholesalers have their catalogs online or can be ordered. The startup costs are fairly low, depending on the minimum order required by the wholesalers the coop chooses to dealing with. If the wholesaler does not deliver, the coop will need a vehicle to pick up the food - either borrowed from one of the members or rented for the day. While eventually the coop may rent or buy a permanent location, such as a storefront, many churches, mosques, or community centres have rooms that can be used for free when it is time to divide up the food. Even a member’s garage or front lawn will do!

The first step is to talk to your friends and neighbours - show them this article. See what they think and figure out what are your common needs. It’s time for our communities to come together and coops are one way to start!

Pickton: No End to Colonial Violence

Robert Pickton: A Pathological Individual or the Personification of Canadian Colonial Violence?, a special report by guest columnist and Indigenous scholar, Robyn Bourgeois.

Beginning in the early 1980s, women began disappearing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside – one of the poorest regions in Canada. Over the next two decades, family and friends of missing women, along with community groups from the area, fought to bring these disappearances to the attention of police and local governments. Yet because many of these women battled severe drug and alcohol addictions, and because many were involved in the sex trade, police and city officials failed to act, claiming that the women’s street lifestyle made their disappearances difficult to investigate. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2001 that a formal police task force was established; and by this time, sixty-eight women (known collectively as the “Missing Women”) had disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
In 2002, a Port Coquitlam, BC, pig farmer named Robert “Willie” Pickton was charged in the deaths of twenty-six of the Missing Women. In December 2007, Pickton was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole after twenty five years. A second trial on the remaining twenty counts is expected to commence in 2008. If convicted of all twenty-six counts, Robert Pickton will stand as the worst serial killer in Canadian history.
While much has been made of the Missing Women’s common existence in the worlds of addictions, prostitution, and street life; very little attention has been paid to other startling commonality among the women at least one-third of the Missing Women were of Aboriginal ancestry when Aboriginal women make up less than one percent of the population of Vancouver.
Sadly, the overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in such violence is neither surprising nor new. Over the last twenty years, it is estimated that over five hundred Aboriginal women have gone missing and/or been murdered across Canada. This includes the disappearances and deaths of at least seventeen Aboriginal women along Yellowhead Highway Sixteen in northern British Columbia, now painfully known as the “Highway of Tears”. This also includes the deaths and disappearances of at least twenty high-risk women, the majority of whom are Aboriginal, being investigated by Project KARE in Edmonton, Alberta; and the serial killings of John Martin Crawford, a Saskatoon, Saskatchewan man convicted or killing at least four Aboriginal women during the early 1990s.
Statistics pertaining to violence show a grim existence for Canada’s First women. For example, Aboriginal women are five times more likely to die as a result of violence than any other Canadian women. Eight out of ten Aboriginal women experience violence in intimate relationships (including husbands, boyfriends, and family members). Seventy-five percent of Aboriginal girls under eighteen have experienced violence – particularly sexual assault – and of these, fifty percent experienced this violence before the age of fourteen. Indeed, the life expectancy for Aboriginal women falls more than seven years below the average female non-Aboriginal Canadian.
It is nearly impossible to separate the violence committed against Aboriginal women from issues of colonialism, racism, and poverty – all of which have worked together to push Aboriginal women to the margins of Canadian society, and thus, overexposed to violence. Histories of colonization have seen the erosion of traditional Aboriginal communities and the production of a grossly disadvantaged and destitute Aboriginal population. Additionally, racist colonial stereotypes that see Aboriginal women as “squaws” – dirty and sexually available women – results in Aboriginal women being targeted for sex – whether consensual or not.
The story is simple: Aboriginal women leave their communities – whether fleeing violence, trying to find work, or obtain an education – and find themselves alone in urban centers, with no social supports there to help them. As a result, many of these women end up involved in the sex trade – whether to support addictions that formed as a result of the isolation and desperation of urban life; or as a means of supporting one’s self or their family. The sex trade, being on the “wrong side of the law,” means that Aboriginal women are over-policed (often arrested for prostitution), but under-protected from acts of violence.
The point is that violence against Aboriginal women is not just an “Aboriginal issue”. It is about being a racial minority and an ‘outsider’ in Canadian society. Being Aboriginal is just part of the equation that results in the basic outcome of not having access to the means of survival, and being forced into dangerous and life-threatening situations just to ensure survival. The situation is not that different for young black men in Toronto, who are also forced into dangerous situations in order to survive and who in turn experience endemic violence and police brutality.
Violence against Aboriginal women is an issue of the utmost importance for all marginalized Canadians. The problem of violence against Aboriginal women is not the pathology of one individual, but the pathology of the colonial and imperialist Canadian society wherein this sort of violence is permitted against certain sections of its population. 

History of Struggle: The Winnipeg General Strike

As a new regular feature, Basics will cover important events in the history of popular struggle.

Canada’s working peoples have a proud history of resistance and, even today, the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike is a great example to learn from.
In spring of 1919, employers refused to negotiate with workers who wanted higher wages and union recognition in Winnipeg-based building and metal jobs. Workers turned to the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council (WTLC) for help and within a week a democratic vote was held in which over 11,000 members of the WTLC chose to hold a general strike in support of the building and metal workers demands. Less than 600 votes were cast against the strike. Based on these results and widespread support from other unions, the WTLC formed a Central Strike Committee and declared a general strike.
On May 15, 1919, at 11am the general strike began with approximately 30,000 workers participating over the 6 weeks it lasted. As word of the general strike spread across the country, workers in other areas declared their solidarity. Sympathy strikes were called in Brandon, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Regina, Vancouver, New Westminster, Victoria, and in as many as 20 other towns.
The response of the federal government to the Winnipeg strikers was similar to what we might expect today: members of the federal parliament refused to meet with the WTLC or the Central Strike Committee but instead met only with a committee formed by employers, business elites and media. This group represented no more than 1000 Winnipeg citizens.
The federal government then ordered all workers back to work under threat of being fired. On June 6, the federal cabinet changed the Immigration Act to allow for the arrest and deportation of “enemy aliens”. Workers not born in Canada were targeted as agitators and publicly referred to as “alien scum”. On June 17, twelve strike-leaders and strikers born in other countries were arrested and held in Stone Mountain Penitentiary, outside of Winnipeg. Some were later deported.
Workers and strike-supporters were outraged and planned a parade and rally on Saturday June 21, 1919, now known as “Bloody Saturday”. The Royal North-West Mounted Police were used by the government to break up the crowds, which they did by killing one worker and seriously injuring at least 30 workers. A special police force put together by the City of Winnipeg and the Canadian army then beat many workers using baseball bats and wagon spokes.
Faced with the combined forces of government and employers, and under constant threats of violence and intimidation, the strikers decided to return to work in late June 1919.
The militancy set off in Canada amongst workers for almost thirty years after the Winnipeg General Strike finally resulted in a victory of union recognition, collective bargaining, and social welfare programs for the unemployed.
It is disappointing today to see these hard-won rights whittled away by high-paid labor bureaucrats like Buzz Hargrove (see CAW/Magna, p4). Let us take the lessons of the Winnipeg Strike and organize for higher wages, better working conditions in our workplaces, and a better society!